Confusion, Fear Puts Hitch in Plan for Residential ‘Hotel’

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By Dan Rivoli

For Fine Times, the developer that wants to open a “residential” hotel on West 68th Street, the latest Community Board 7 meeting was anything but.

The company faced pushback, during the Oct. 6 meeting, on its plan to restore the historic, Beaux Art-style row house that it owns and convert it into a “residential” hotel. In return for the restoration, Fine Times, a luxury rental company with 26 buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn, would have been able to operate a private, residential club—never before done in New York City.

CB7 shot down plans for Fine Times to convert the historic West Side house that it owns into a “residential” hotel. Photo by: Andrew Schwartz

The terms of the agreement stated that an individual or entity would be able to rent the space for no less than a week and a maximum of a month. The client would also be able to bring a maximum of 22 overnight guests or host an event with no more than 50 people in the building at one time.

Board members and nearby residents detailed a litany of fears about what the operation would do to their quiet residential street: late-night cocktail parties, noise, trash, increased traffic, limousines, mid-day drinking and, in the words of one community board member, the potential for “the most expensive bordello on the Upper West Side.”

Stephen Leonard, president of the 74 W. 68th St. co-op board, was worried that Fine Times would cater to the demands of their wealthy customers who rent the space for parties and events rather than neighbors.

“Are they really going to tell the CEO of a major corporation to lower his voice as he leaves the building at 2 a.m.?” Leonard told the community board. “It’s not hard to imagine the disruption this will create.”

David Lindsay, a commercial real estate lawyer, worried that a client and their overnight guests would start partying early in the day.

“This hotel will be rented to groups that know each other and every night at 5 o’clock, they will want to have fun,” Lindsay said. “I don’t know if I want to live next to that 365 days a year.”

But the managing director of Fine Times, Joseph Lopez, tried to highlight the strict set of rules crafted with the local block association that the company and guests would follow. If the building was simply residential, Lopez argued, a tenant could be loud and boisterous with little consequence or recourse for neighbors.

Mitch Korbin, the company’s attorney, told the community board that the set of rules for Fine Times and the West 68th Street Block Association “contains a lot of controls, for everything to hours of occupancy, to when the garbage is picked up.”

Adrienne Stortz, president of the block association, supported Fine Times’ plan because of the restorations to a currently empty building.

The proposal blindsided many opponents of the plan that attended the community board meeting. Though the proposal has been known of since April 2009 and been the subject of several community board meetings, many residents said they only found out about the project after seeing signs posted on their block for a September meeting with the block association.

“This proposal has not received significant review from the community,” said Jonathan Cohen, a resident of 80 Central Park West.

Lopez, the managing director of Fine Times, countered that the company and the block association did extensive outreach to the community.

“There was an opportunity to review this,” Lopez said.

At the end of the lengthy debate, community board members panned the project, especially after contention about how many people could rent out this space. Many board members believed Fine Times would be renting out the building to an individual client. But the agreement with the block association used the word “primarily,” which gave Fine Times wiggle room to rent out the building to more than one client at a time. Board members also believed the community needed to be informed of the plan before lending its support.

After the board rejected the proposal 29 to 4, Fine Times’ options are to retool its application and resubmit the plans to Community Board 7 or go on to the City Planning Commission.

“We’re seeing our options, including going back into making it a multiple-dwelling building,” Lopez said.

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